(This is the eighth of 10 posts. Each is a chapter from the Building a Safe Community project I did for the county.)
Alternative-to-incarceration: a safer community, lower costs
Winnebago County’s two successful models: in-jail for inmates and the standalone Resource Intervention Center for offenders on probation – Let’s not be disingenuous. No alternative-to-incarceration program will be 100 percent effective.
Resource Intervention Center staffers readily say that among their worst days are those when they read that one of their supposedly successful clients is back in jail.
Some criminals need to be behind bars and stay behind them – forever. Some first time and low-risk offenders should never see the inside of a cell, and, instead should be moved into programs like Kane County’s deferred prosecution model.
Others should be sentenced to alternative-to-incarceration programs that use a wrap-around approach to provide the support and education offenders need to get straight and go straight.
The path to a safer community – measured by evidence-based results – is a sustained reduction in the number of times one offender goes back to a jail cell, either for a new offense or a violation of release conditions.
Reducing recidivism is not an either-or approach. It’s about combining aggressive law enforcement, efficient court processes and alternative programs. It’s about locking up the right offenders forever and ensuring the rest don’t come back again.
The two evidenced-based models: Winnebago County’s first evidenced-based alternative-to-incarceration programs were in its new jail, the Criminal Justice Center, which opened in 2007. As those programs proved effective in reducing repeat offenses, the county expanded alternative-to-incarceration opportunities by opening the Resource Intervention Center (RIC) in 2008. It was the first in Illinois and remains the only such facility.
Both programs follow the “evidence-based practices” that were mandated of all court services in 2001 by the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts. Doing so puts Winnebago County in the forefront of criminal justice practices – and ensures that taxpayer-funded programs achieve and document the results expected. In short, programs have to prove they’ve accomplished what they promised.
The county currently supports two significant alternative-to-incarceration programs: one for inmates in jail and one at the RIC for criminals on probation. A third – the community- and faith-based programs – supplement the evidenced-based models.
Both RIC and the in-jail approaches have been successful in reducing recidivism among Winnebago County offenders, mirroring national trends that demonstrate alternative-to-incarceration statistically slow down the revolving door of moderate- to high-risk repeat offenders.
Winnebago County offenders on probation and participating in programs at the Resource Intervention Center on average reduced their number of days in jail from 154.8 to 58.53.
Inmates participating in the in-jail alternative programs dropped from 148.72 days to 58.91.
According to the three-year baseline research completed in 2011 by the University of Illinois, the drop in recidivism in the county’s two formal programs has been encouraging.
Offenders participating in Resource Intervention Center programming saw a recidivism reduction of 62.2 percent. The in-jail programs brought about a 60.4 percent decrease. Offenders who did not participate in alternative programs increased the number of days in jail by 7.6 percent.
Criminals sentenced to jail time only – with no alternative programming – re-offend more frequently than those who participate in alternative programs. Incarceration-only in Winnebago County increased days-in-jail from 34.07 to 36.67.
Better than the national expectations: Winnebago County’s three-year results are outperforming national statistics.
National research indicates that “strong implementation of evidence-based practices and programs can reduce recidivism rates by 50 percent … (and that if 41) … states could reduce their recidivism rates by just 10 percent, they could save $645 million in averted prison costs in one year alone … and the drop in recidivism would mean fewer victims of crime.”
The same Pew Center study continues: “Research shows that the largest reductions in recidivism are realized when evidence-based programs and practices are implemented in prisons and govern the supervision of probationers and parolees in the community post-release.”
Both the in-jail and Resource Intervention Center programs use evidence-based models coupled with formal, comprehensive risk and needs assessment tools and wrap-around monitoring, mentoring and customized programming.
The third piece — community-based agencies: In the early jail tax funding years, the county funneled much of its alternative program funding to well-established and well-respected community agencies, such as Booker Washington Center, the Rockford Rescue Mission, the Salvation Army, YouthBuild, La Voz Latina, Patriot’s Gateway and Reformers Unanimous, among others.
These agencies were then a logical choice for integrating alternative-to-incarceration programming; they remain in the overall mix and essential to the community’s quality of life.
Community-based programs remain an important part of the county’s alternative-to-incarceration strategies. However, the county’s limited financial resources coupled with the effectiveness of the in-jail and Resource Intervention Center has resulted in reallocation of funds away from some community-based programs.
Winnebago County’s three alternative-to-incarceration programs (Resource Intervention Center, in-jail and community agencies) reduce recidivism and help criminals lead non-violent, productive lives outside jail cells.
Unfortunately, the political climate can gloss over this data, often preferring the punishment and retribution model to the demonstrably more effective alternative-to-incarceration programs.
4. The past 40 years: Changes on the national level
5. Winnebago County criminal justice system: From command-and-control to wrap-around-services
7. The impact of the one-cent public safety sales tax
8. Alternative to incarceration: Better results. Lower costs
9. The Resource Intervention Center: A 21st century model
10. A week at the RIC